Lights Film School Online recently had the opportunity to interview Ryan Staake the owner / operator of Pomp&Clout a multidisciplinary design / direction company based out of Brooklyn and Minnesota. Ryan talks with our Lights Film School blog readers about what it takes to operate a successful independent video production company. Our interview is found below.
Hello Ryan and thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your company Pomp&Clout. Before we jump into the interview, can you tell us a little bit about why you started Pomp&Clout?
No problem! Thanks for your interest. I started Pomp&Clout because I was looking to work for myself. I have many creative interests, namely video, motion graphics, animation, graphic design, user interface design and saw a personal practice, or production company as the quickest way to explore all of these mediums at once. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding to be your own boss, and slowly but surely build up a client base.
Your company focuses on producing music videos, commercials and shorts as well as interactive and design media. The company seems to be a reflection of your interests as an individual. But can you tell me a little bit more about how much time each of these departments take up within your company? For example, do you find you spend more time working on music videos or doing design work?
Yes, that’s probably one of the more unique facets of Pomp&Clout–the range of projects being so broad. I juggle many different types of projects on any given day, which I love. For example I started today working on some user interface mockups for Duolingo, a language learning web startup I work with (I did their video as well http://www.pompandclout.com/duolingo). Over lunch I worked a bit on a short film concept I’ve been tossing around in my head, then I transitioned into putting the final touches on a very commercial promo video for Swipely (http://www.pompandclout.com/swipely), another startup and frequent Pomp&Clout client. Once I start rendering that, I’ll be shooting a much more experimental promo video for Clown & Sunset, a label started by electronic musician Nicolas Jaar. It’ll involve dropping objects into a tub filled with 10 gallons of milk, and blasting a bunch of flour with a reversed shop vac, and filming it all in slow motion. Tonight I’ll be putting some spanish subtitles onto a recently completed video for PunchMe (http://www.pompandclout.com/punchme). So the nature of my projects in any given day is incredibly diverse, and I love that.
Do you enjoy working within one of these departments more than the others?
I like them all equally, but if I spend too much time in one area, I always miss the others. The grass is always greener on the other side of the creative fence.
Does Pomp&Clout havea physical space that you work out of?
I work out of a home studio in Minnesota. I used to be based in Brooklyn, and still spend alot of time between Minnesota, LA, NYC and Pittsburgh for projects. Over the years, my home studio has slowly developed into an ideal workplace for me. I have 3x 24” Apple Cinema Displays, which makes for an amazing way to animate in After Effects, or edit in Final Cut. They’re plugged into my Mac Pro, which has 12x 2.66 ghz cores, and 20gb of RAM. It’s crazy fast and I’m really proud of it if you can’t tell, like a guy with a muscle car he’s built. I also have an analog, VHS setup as well, which I use on some more experimental projects for music videos. When traveling, I use a 17” Mac Book pro. I shoot on a Canon 5D mkiii and a Panasonic HPX 170.
You’ve worked with smaller companies and independent music labels and you’ve also worked with some big names (BBC, Apple, EMI, Mazda, Visa… to name only a few). Can you tell me about the differences between working with big and small companies.
There’s definite positives and negatives to both. Smaller clients tend to be more open to riskier/fresh ideas, whereas larger clients are a bit more conservative, but have larger budgets. The one thing I love in any client is quick responses to email and phone calls. Nothing makes a project drag on more than a slow email responder, and you find these occasionally in any sized client, in any industry. Prompt, timely responses do wonders at keeping things moving along efficiently, and ultimately improve the final product.
I saw the music video you directed for Darkside entitled A1 (Watch the music video below). You directed and helped produce the video, but the video was completed for the label “Clown and Sunset Films”. Can you tell me a little bit more about how the average record label / video production collaboration looks? Who generally approaches who?
Normally the label will approach me with a video they’d like a pitch on. Most of the time multiple directors are pitching, and you just try to ignore that and write what you feel is the best possible treatment. As mentioned previously, Clown & Sunset is a label created by Nicolas Jaar and Noah Kraft. They brought me on board as a resident filmmaker, so I’ve been working directly with them on alot of interesting projects. So far I’ve created Nico’s tour visuals http://www.pompandclout.com/nicolas-jaar-tour-visuals which I also performed during 5 hour audio/visual live set at MoMA PS1 in New York a few months back. I made a promo video for their new object, The Prism (http://www.pompandclout.com/csa-001-the-prism) and am currently working on several other secret projects that will come out in the future.
Do you find that once you start working with a record label you continue to work with them in the future?
Hopefully, if I’ve done a good job on the video, they come back for more. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some very exciting independent labels, most notably Mad Decent, for whom I did Major Lazer’s visuals (http://www.pompandclout.com/major-lazer-visuals) and a Rusko video you can see below.
I’ve also done 2 videos and an interactive app for The Suzan: http://www.pompandclout.com/the-suzan-devils http://www.pompandclout.com/the-suzan-home (see below) http://www.pompandclout.com/the-suzan-home-app and one of my first videos for anyone, which was Congorock – Babylon: http://www.pompandclout.com/congorock-babylon)
Do you work closely with the record label when coming up with the budget for the shoot?
Normally they tell me what the budget is when asking for the video treatment initially. Sometimes if I have a strong reason to ask for more budget, they’ll make it happen. For example on The Suzan – Home, I realized how awesome and relatively easy it would be to do an interactive version of the video, and Fool’s Gold agreed to increase the budget immediately, which was really cool of them to do.
How much would you say the average indie music video costs nowadays.
Less than you’d think…
Do you find it difficult to balance the business demands of running a company with the creative demands that are required for this type of work? How do you balance the two?
I actually get a lot of satisfaction out of the business portion of running a production company, which some may find weird for a creative professional. I feel like there’s a bit of art to it actually, working out the details of a project, invoicing, keeping the project moving forward efficiently. But I can definitely become overloaded by it if I’m spending nearly all my time on it. I suppose I view it as another facet of my creative work, just like I do video, animation, design and UI work, I also do “business” work, just as a necessity. I do have an accountant though, and he’s great at helping me keep taxes in order come end of the year. Perhaps in the future I could see hiring an operations/management specific person, but at this point I’m handling all daily operations myself.
Can you tell us a little bit more about how your company has evolved from the time you started the company until now?
It began as a kind of afterwork activity while I was living in San Francisco and working as a UI designer at Apple on the iPhone/iPad and MacOS X. Once I decided to respectfully leave Apple (I had nothing but amazing experiences and opportunities during my time in Cupertino), I jumped full on into Pomp&Clout, became LLC’ed, taught myself basic invoicing software, and hit the digital pavement looking for clients. I’m very quick to email a company or label who I find interesting, just to say hi and touch base, and find that many times we strike up a conversation and end up finding a way to work together. As far as video production, I quickly realized how little I knew about shooting, and began scrambling to learn, and work with/learn from talented filmmakers. I’ve been fortunate to work with T.S. Pfeffer and Rob McHugh at Pier Pictures in Los Angeles on many projects, and they’ve both been crucial in serving as Director(s) of Photography and Producer(s) on many of my live action projects.
What advice would you give filmmakers who are thinking of starting their own video production companies?
Go for it. If you’re good at it, and have the drive, you’ll make it work. The barriers to entry in video production are so incredibly minimal at this point in history, and I’m sure they’ll only continue to lower. Know your weaknesses, and find people to help prop up those areas of your creative skillset, and slurp up knowledge from them like a sponge. Ultimately, having a large tool box has been useful for me, it allows me to take on many different types of projects, but I’m constantly learning about various facets of production in an attempt to add more depth to these various skills.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today and sharing your thoughts about running a production company with our blog readers. We’ve really appreciate you taking the time to do this! If you’re interested in learning more about Pomp&Clout you can visit their website, twitter or vimeo or pages.
Sure thing, I had a good time and hope that my personal experiences are useful to someone out there. Best of luck everyone.